Mislabeled fish fillets can fool chefs, along with consumers

Seafood Fraud

Susie has an interesting blog today describing two trends in fish cookbooks (check out Coastal features.) So it seemed appropriate to call attention to this NPR features on fish fillets, "How Well Do You Know Your Fish Fillets? Even Chefs Can Be Fooled." They point to a study by Oceana: "Oceana, a conservation group, has been beating the drum about seafood mislabeling for a while. Back in February, the organization released a study that found that 33 percent of the seafood it sampled at retail outlets in 21 states was mislabeled. (Note: The sampling was not randomized, so the findings should be taken with a grain of salt.)"

Whether salted or not, it is easy for people to be fooled by fillets. To prove this, Oceana ran a test in Washington, D.C. where they asked chefs to choose the correct fish from very similar-looking fillets (see above photos of wild salmon, red snapper, halibut on the left). None of the chefs seemed to be confident about their choices just from looking at them.

Then they cooked the same dishes from  twin groups - grouper and weakfish, wild and farmed salmon, and red snapper and tilapia. Depending on the cooking method, they were still hard to tell apart, especially when cooked with lots of other flavors.

Actually, the result that we found most surprising was the red snapper/tilapia exchange (which apparently is a very common fraud). "The snapper that Dehayes had prepared was covered in a chimichurri crust and served with fresh corn polenta. Although the snapper and tilapia had slightly different textures, strong spices made it tough to tell the two apart. It was easy to see why diners are so often tricked."  Oceana found that tilapia was sold as red snapper in 113 of 120 samples.

Of course there's nothing wrong with tilapia - but it's still fraud if you're paying red snapper prices for tilapia, especially given that the latter is usually half the cost of the former.



Photo by Heather Rousseau/NPR

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